By John Torsiello
Granby Memorial High School graduate Ashley Piccirillo-Horan was hoping to a make an impact during her freshman season at Brandeis University. And she did.
Piccirillo-Horan helped her team finish third at the recent University Athletic Association cross-country championships, the best result for the Judges in more than decade. She finished 35th with a time of 23:33.5 and was her team’s fifth scorer for the meet held at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa.
In a field boasting six nationally-ranked teams, the 33rd-ranked Judges earned 88 points, trailing champion Chicago (54 points) and NYU (60 points) but ahead of 10-ranked Washington University (92 points), 20th-ranked Case Western Reserve (110 points) and 34th-ranked Rochester (149 points.)
The Judges, who finished in eighth place with 193 points a year ago, improved by 105 points for their five-spot improvement. Their third-place finish was their best at the UAA meet since coming in second in 2002. The only other time in the past 11 years that Brandeis has finished in the top half of the conference meet came in 2009, when they placed fourth overall.
“I am really proud of the way we ran today,” said head coach John Evans. “Hopefully this will give us a real shot at qualifying for nationals.”
Said Piccirillo-Horan, “We definitely met our goals and actually exceeded expectations. As a team, we came together and proved to our conference we were a force to be reckoned with, and that we were a serious contender this year despite being last the previous year.”
She said of her own performance, “I personally did better than I thought I would, and my coaches were very pleasantly surprised. They projected me being anywhere from where I placed to 50th, so I was more than happy with being 35th.”
Piccirillo-Horan said she was confident but on edge prior to the meet.
“I honestly cannot describe how nervous I was before the race. Two hours before the start of it I felt a stomach dropping sensation similar to going on a roller-coaster ride throughout my whole body. I knew I needed to calm myself down. At the starting line I was pretty excited, and knew that there was nothing that I could do other than to give my best. I kept my mindset positive throughout the entire race, and that allowed me to strategize and pace myself very well. The entire race I gradually picked off competitors, and increased my speed for the last thousand meters to finish strong.”
Piccirillo-Horan has enjoyed “a pretty good season” as a freshman.
“I didn’t realize I was potentially an important runner for the scoring on the team in cross-country. I know that I have to make this season count with having two very talented seniors leaving next year, and I am giving my all to help our team get as far as we can. I have learned a lot more about my capabilities athletically and mentally and have loved getting to know all my teammates. I couldn’t be more pleased with how this season has gone so far, and am looking forward to our regional meet on Saturday.”
The former Granby Memorial star has built up a much larger mileage base than when she arrived at Brandeis, located in Waltham, Ma., and feels stronger than she has ever been.
“I have been pacing myself well in my races, and have had better mindsets mentally. I have consistently placed as our fifth runner, and it is hard to compare each course. I would say my best race was the UAA meet this past Saturday, doing much better than I expected to.”
Brandeis will compete next in two weeks at the NCAA Division III Championship Qualifiers at the University of Southern Maine.